Project management, the coordination of multiple processes over a finite period in order to achieve a singular product, goal or outcome is a valuable commodity in even the most competitive economy. Projects exist across industries, and the skills and knowledge necessary to execute a successful project apply just as well on a construction site as they do on a computer or in the boardroom. Although project management wasn’t recognized as a formal discipline until the mid-20th century, the practice itself is fundamental to commercial enterprise, and always has been.
As project management evolves, it becomes increasingly specialized, and numerous methodologies have emerged in order to accommodate the panoramic scope of the profession. To a certain extent, however, the traditional five phases of project management—initiation, design and planning, execution, monitor and control, and close—still control today’s models, particularly the waterfall.
Also the most widely applied, the waterfall originated first in manufacturing and took root in software development. Its distinguishing features, including a clearly defined set of linear processes conducted in strict accordance to a previously established schedule, reflect its origins. Although highly effective in structured environments, the waterfall can inhibit adaptation in more fluid or unstable settings, as it requires that every stakeholder adhere to the guidelines established at the beginning of the project. Scope, budget, schedule, resources and risk, the constraints that govern every project, must be accurately assessed from the onset and problems must be obviated before they arise.
Accordingly, the more recent permutations of project management are also the least restrictive. Projects completed within the adaptive model allow for contingencies during execution by flexing the scope around a fixed budget and schedule. Optimizing product value is the primary focus.
The agile methodology takes the adaptive one step further by not only allowing for contingency, but anticipating it. Rapid, cyclical product delivery that starts almost immediately upon project initiation replaces one unchanging end-product defined at the start. Creative leadership and transparent communication among stakeholders, important to any project management methodology, are indispensable to agile projects.
Like the waterfall, the agile model has spawned many different formats, each tailored to various processes, objectives and circumstances. The scrum model, like the rugby play from which its name derives, prioritizes teamwork and focuses more on enhancing team productivity than creating an end-product. The “Scrum Master” supplants the project manager, and removing obstacles to team output is the one enduring focus. The scrum method succeeds most often in stable work environments in which long-time coworkers enjoy ample resources.
Despite the obvious differences among current project management methodologies, the professional qualities they demand remain constant. Exceptionally strong communication skills, critical and quantitative analytics, conflict resolution, leadership, financial planning, and creative problem-solving are all essential to the field. Learning how to manage a project reinforces the requisite skills regardless of their ultimate application. Indeed, business professionals of all kinds can benefit from integrating the principles of project management and its most prominent methodologies into their work performance, and experienced project managers acquire the knowledge and competencies to succeed beyond their title.